Why Ukraine’s Zelenskyy takes a risky trip to meet Biden

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, making a dramatic, risky wartime visit, arrived at the White House on Wednesday and met with President Biden to shore up and support his nation’s brutal struggle against Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Alongside a warm welcome from Biden, government officials and fervent supporters of Ukraine, Zelenskyy was greeted with the president’s announcement of $1.8 billion in new aid, including a sophisticated Patriot missile battery that Kyiv has long sought .

Dressed in an olive green uniform, Selensky stood for a moment in the cold sunlight on a red carpet overlooking the South Lawn of the White House. Biden and First Lady Jill Biden, flanked by US and Ukrainian flags, shook hands with Zelensky and whispered a few comments. Biden then put his arm around Zelensky and the trio turned and entered the White House together.

Zelenskyy’s visit to the US, his first known trip outside of his country since the Russian invasion 300 days ago, was a closely guarded secret until the eve of his arrival. It is full of risks and dangers and surrounded by extreme security measures.

After the White House meeting with Biden, cabinet members and the US national security team, the teenage leader – whose nightly video addresses have served as a key morale booster for his people – will hold a press conference to reach out to the American public.

“I’m in Washington today to thank the American people, the President and Congress for their much-needed support. And also to continue working together to bring our victory closer,” Zelenskyy said on his official Telegram channel before arriving at the White House.

He will later meet House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and deliver a speech before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill.

To begin his trip, Zelenskyy arrived in Poland by train, accompanied by US Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink, before boarding a US Air Force jet to a military base outside of Washington. He arrived around noon local time, was greeted by American military officials and Ukraine’s ambassador to the US, and transported by motorcade to the heart of the capital, where a yellow-and-blue Ukrainian flag flew over Blair House, the traditional accommodation for visiting heads of state .

Zelensky has previously used video communications to direct impassioned pleas for help to national legislatures around the world, as well as to the United Nations and gatherings of world leaders at major summits.

A personal appearance in the capital of Ukraine’s main ally is of exceptional importance. Zelenskyy will be able to stress that Ukraine has defied predictions of a rapid collapse in the face of Russian military might. He will also be able to draw more attention to his country’s need for continued support.

While some Republicans are beginning to question whether military and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine should continue at current levels, and while certain sections of the US public are showing signs of impatience with the war effort, Zelenskyy’s call for unwavering American support has additional support reached urgency.

On Wednesday morning, just hours before Zelenskyy’s arrival, Biden announced a new $1.8 billion tranche of aid. That aid will include a Patriot missile battery, the surface-to-air guided missile system Kyiv has been requesting for months, according to a senior government official. The Pentagon calls the Patriot system “one of the most advanced air defense capabilities in the world.”

U.S. forces will train Ukrainians to use the system in a third country, the official said, and “Ukrainian troops will bring that training back to their country to operate that battery.”

Lawmakers are also preparing to vote on a $1.7 trillion funding bill by year-end 2023 that includes $45 billion in additional economic and security aid to Ukraine. Some House Republicans have expressed reluctance to authorize more aid to Ukraine after taking control of the lower house next year, but a senior administration official told reporters the White House is “confident” about it continued bipartisan support for Kiev. Zelensky’s appearance on Capitol Hill would underscore that commitment, the official added.

“This is not about sending a message to a political party. This is about sending a message to [Vladimir] Putin and is sending a message to the world that America will be there for Ukraine for as long as it takes,” said the official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity to discuss details of the trip.

In a Senate speech on Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said continued support for Ukraine was not only morally right, but “a direct investment in cold, hard American interests.”

A victory over Russia, McConnell said, would also send “a stark warning” to China.

Zelenskyi’s meeting with Biden will be his second appearance at the White House. The two leaders first met in September 2021, when Biden reaffirmed his administration’s commitment to “Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russian aggression” and American support for Kiev’s “Euro-Atlantic aspirations.”

Biden invited Zelensky to this visit when the two on 11/14; A formal invitation followed three days later, according to an official. Zelenskyj accepted the invitation on Friday. On Sunday, the White House began coordinating with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office to arrange Zelenskyy’s appearance before Congress. Pelosi hinted at Zelensky’s visit in a letter to colleagues on Tuesday, urging members to appear in person “to give a very special emphasis on democracy.”

Announcing the joint session of Congress scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET, Pelosi said Zelensky’s performance was reminiscent of Winston Churchill’s visit to Congress the day after Christmas 1941 to enlist American support in World War II. Pelosi’s father, Thomas D’Alesandro Jr., was a member of the house at the time.

“Eighty-one years later this week, it is particularly poignant for me to be present when another heroic wartime leader addresses Congress — and democracy itself is at stake,” she wrote.

The Ukrainian president has become a household name in Washington after playing a key role in former President Trump’s first impeachment trial. As the newly elected president, Zelenskyi received a call from Trump threatening to stop military aid to Ukraine unless he digs dirt on Biden’s son, Hunter Biden. Joe Biden, then a Democratic rival preparing for his presidential bid, had led an anti-corruption offensive in Ukraine as vice president.

Ukraine was already in a limited war with Russia after Putin invaded and illegally annexed Crimea, Ukraine’s southern Black Sea peninsula, in 2014.

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